The Joy Of Conferencing

Not Mount Hermon, but not so very different either.

Not Mount Hermon, but not so very different either.

I love writers’ conferences. I’m not going to any this year, but my favorite one–Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference–starts this week, and a number of people I know are planning on attending either as conferees or as presenters.

Years ago I attended a conference here in the Southland, which was nice because I didn’t have the added expense of a hotel room. It was held at a Christian university in the area so the facility couldn’t have been better. However, the director changed and the venue changed, and then the conference ended.

Another small–I’m talking, fifty people at most–conference, ACW, used to be held in the area at a hotel. I could still commute and liked that one too depending on who the presenters were. There was something really intimate about such a small gathering.

I went to another one day conference in the area put on by the Orange County Christian Writers’ Fellowhip, and that was good too (they recently expanded to a two day conference, I believe). It was medium sized and had some good workshop instructors.

Then there was the ACFW conference a number of years ago. I liked my classes and had a chance to meet a number of online friends in person.

In fact, the best part of conferences, I think, is getting to hang out with writers. I like learning the important content the instructors give, too. I’m an incurable note-taker so fill up pages at these conferences. I also use up all the slots I’m given to meet with editors and agents.

Mount Hermon seems like a good conference for those of us attending–we get to have our work in front of either editors or agents as a submission, if we choose, or we can ask for a critique from one of those or from an experienced writer. Then we can make appointments with staff we’d like to talk with or we can sit with them at lunch or dinner. Since the conference officially runs from Friday noon to Tuesday noon, that’s a lot of meals to spend pitching projects or just getting to know professionals in the business.

Besides all that, there are continuing classes on a particular subject of your choice, so you can go in depth. There are also editor and agent panels and other workshops about interesting topics. Of course there are also keynote speakers that tie the whole conference together. I’ve been there when Ted Dekker was a keynoter and another year when Jerry Jenkins was. But my favorite was Liz Curtis Higgs.

Mount Hermon has another thing going for it–it’s in Mount Hermon. I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful spot for a conference–and my favorite place in the world is Colorado. So you can see, I think a lot about the Mount Hermon Conference site. There’s something about those redwood trees. They’re not just big, though they are that. They are majestic. Or noble. It’s one of those things everyone tries to capture on film, but it just doesnt’ translate to an image. Besides, they create this amazing separation from the busy urban coastal communities nearby, so you feel as if you are miles and miles away from distractions (unless you bring them with you).

I love writers’ conferences, all types–small, large, short, long. I love talking about writing, hearing stories about writing, getting feedback about my writing. I even like writing, so one of the things I’d like to do is go to a writing retreat where much of the time is spent writing.

For now, though, I’m content to troll the Internet for news about conferences in the hopes that someone is blogging about their experience so I can live vicariously through them! 😉

The Turquoise And Orange Mentality

Turquoise and orange. Or green and red. Purple and yellow. Opposites on the color wheel and the perfect metaphor for the way our western culture approaches … just about everything.

For some reason which I haven’t yet figured out, society has fallen into an all-or-nothing way of thinking. It’s all my way—and of course, my way is right—therefore every other way is all wrong. This trend is more surprising in light of the “tolerance movement,” but that’s a subject for another day.

Here I’m concerned with how this “if I like it, it’s good, it’s all good” concept affects Christians reviewing books. Because, sadly, Christians have bought into this mindset as much as or more than the rest of the culture.

After all, we’re engaged in spiritual warfare. Evil is real and opposes God. And there is only One way to salvation; all other roads lead to destruction. On top of which, righteousness matters.

All true. But what I think we Christians lose sight of from time to time is the fact that the world is a mixed bag.

Jesus even said so in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the story, the landed nobleman ordered his servants to plant grain. They did, but in the night an enemy sneaked into his field and contaminated the crop with weed seed. When the plants grew, the servants realized weeds were intermingled with the good grain. They went to their lord and asked him if he hadn’t planted good seed and what were they to do about these weeds. Leave them, he said, until the harvest. That would be the appropriate time to sort the weeds from the wheat.

Here’s the deal. We’re living in that wheat and weed field. The weeds, by the way, called “tares” in the NASB, were darnel, a rye grass that looks much like wheat. In other words, telling the two apart was not an easy job. It’s not easy for us, either. What looks to us like a tare now, might in fact be a stalk of wheat.

What in the world do wheat and weeds have to do with reviews?

Here’s the point. I find it a little astounding that in a mixed-bag world, we can see anything as all good or all bad. Yet readers rave all the time that such-and-such a novel is the best book ever written. Or that such and such other book is from the pit of hell and will bring destruction upon every person foolish enough to expose their minds to it.

I remember hearing Liz Curtis Higgs speak at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference some years ago, and she was commenting on responses she got to her novel set in Scotland. One reader raved about how this book was as good as those by Sir Walter Scott! The same day she received a letter tearing her and the book apart. Obviously, both positions couldn’t be true. In fact, Higgs said a writer really must believe neither.

But why do readers and reviewers write as if a book they love has no faults or a book they hate has no value? We live in a mixed-bag world, where made-in-God’s-image creatures fell into corruption. Why are we shocked to see God’s image, tarnished as it is, in those very people who rail against Him? And why do we think everything coming from the fingertips of His redeemed children will automatically be without the rust of corruption? I wish the latter were true.

But I’m as much a mixed bag as the world is. Less so every day, as God does His sanctifying work of transforming me into the image of His Son, but even if I lived without sin, I don’t believe that would mean my writing would also be perfect. I could have pure intentions. My motive might be to honor God, but does that mean my writing will automatically be flawless? Not in a mixed-bag world.

And final question. Is God most honored by our closing our eyes to what might be improved or by an honest appraisal that calls writers to reach for better?

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in June 2008.

Meet A Winner

The first time I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, I rode the bus. It was not a happy experience, mostly because I went at night, arrived tired, and stayed that way a good bit of the time.

The following year, some while before the conference, I pulled out the trusty list of attendees Mount Hermon supplied and started emailing locals to see if anyone from my area was driving up and might have room for a passenger.

While several people replied, only one looked like it would work out. I have to be honest. I had reservations. My traveling buddy was to be a man I had never met. Didn’t know him from Adam or from Jack the Ripper. 😀

Rich with his wife Sheryl

I laugh now because Rich Bullock, the writer who offered to car pool the six hours north, is one of the top-of-the-line Good Guys.

But I had another concern. What would we talk about for all that time? Or would it be OK for me to nap or stare silently out the window?

Silly me. I had prayed about this trip, and God has a way of giving abundantly more than we ask or think. I was driving with another writer, and we pretty much talked about writing non-stop.

Pretty much. I did learn that Rich and I are twins. Well, not actually, but we do share the exact same birth date—month, day, year.

So began a writer friendship. For the next three years Rich and I carpooled to Mount Hermon, adding in a couple other passengers along the way. One year we even had the opportunity to be in the same Mentoring Clinic, so I got a chance to read and critique Rich’s work, and he mine.

I soon learned he had an excellent eye and spot-on suggestions. For a short time we were in an online critique group together, and I saw more and more that Rich knew what he was doing on both sides of the writing desk. Even after that group petered out, I’d occasionally shoot a piece of work to him for his feedback, and he to me.

Consequently, it was my privilege to read a chapter from his new work in progress, Storm Lake, back in February when he was preparing it for another mentoring clinic at Mount Hermon.

And now, seven months later, after a somewhat hopeful agent rejection, Rich hit contest pay dirt. He submitted Storm Lake/Storm Song to the ACFW Genesis contest, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category, and won!

I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Here’s a writer who has taken the time to learn the craft and isn’t afraid to have his work before a group of tough critics. He’s one of those writers who gives back, too, having volunteered for years as a contest judge himself.

Hats off to all the ACFW winners—in all categories of both the Genesis (opening pages of an unpublished writer’s manuscript) and Carol (formerly the Book of the Year) contests. But I have to say, I’m especially happy for my friend Rich.

His is a name you’ll want to remember, especially if you enjoy mystery/suspense. His writing is sensory and transports you into the scenes he writes. I can see readers up late at night, all lights burning, covers pulled tight under the chin, but unable to put the latest Rich Bullock novel down!

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm  Comments (5)  
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The People of Mount Hermon

I promised more about Mount Hermon, and this seems like a good time to squeeze in a little more about the writer’s conference. However, if you want lots more, including some interesting pre-conference info, I suggest you click on over to the Mount Hermon blog.

Where to start?

Regulars here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction might like to put a face with the name of one of our frequent commenters—speculative fiction writer Morgan (she’ll have her own Web site soon) Busse. I was tempted to give her a hard time about not having her own blog until I learned what a busy woman she is and how disciplined she has to be just to eke out an hour a day for writing. Now I feel privileged that she takes the time to stop by ACWoF from time to time!

I don’t think Mount Hermon would feel like Mount Hermon if I didn’t see Becca Johnson and her mom Susan. I first met Becca in 2005, I think, when she was fifteen and part of the teen track. I was excited to meet another fantasy writer and we hit it off right away. Becca joined the CSFF Blog Tour and was quite active until college intervened. Now writing takes up her “free” time.

Some other regulars who make the conference feel like a reunion of sorts are people like now faculty member and former co-mentoring clinic attendee of a Randy Ingermanson group—Jeannette Hanscome, pictured with writer and one time keynote speaker Kay Marshall Strom; Harvest House editor Nick Harrison just before one evening general session standing beside novelist, biographer, poet, and seminar instructor Ethel Herr; strap-yourself-into-your-seat suspense writer Brandilyn Collins; fellow SoCal’ers, novelist Julie Carobini and mentoring group/transportation buddy Rich Bullock; lots others, but I see I’m not going to be able to load all these pictures in this post, so I’ll do a Part 2 another day. For now you’ll have to trust me. Those people really were there!

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 5:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Fantasy Friday – New Releases

I’m pretty excited about the direction Christian fantasy is going. First, I’ve discovered general market Christian fantasy authors like R. J. Anderson and Australian author D.M. Cornish, published by Putnam.

Then I learned at Mount Hermon that Books and Such agented a fantasy author, selling the trilogy to Bethany House. Also, AMG (Dragons in Our Midst) has branched out and is now publishing adult fantasy.

Of course WaterBrook continues to lead the way with traditional publishers when it comes to speculative fiction. This month they released Raven’s Ladder (a CSFF feature later this month), Book 3 of the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet. In May The Last Christian a science fiction thriller by David Gregory will hit bookstore shelves. Publisher’s Weekly has this to say about the latter:

The plotting is intricate and imaginative, and the religious elements go beyond formula, though the political intrigue plot thread is less convincing. Gregory’s approach is fresh, and he’s produced a page-turner.

The big news is that Marcher Lord Press just released its new set of books: To Darkness Fled by Jill Williamson, The Superlative Stream by Kerry Nietz, and The Word Unleashed by Steve Rzasa. The last two are science fiction.

Last month Publisher’s Weekly carried a short blurb about To Darkness Fled in their “Books in Brief” section. Here’s the opening line:

“Christian fantasy is the wee niche in which this fat book fits, and here’s hoping its quality helps enlarge the niche.”

The only thing I didn’t like in the PW blurb was the characterization of Christian fantasy as a “wee niche,” but that probably describes the number of available titles rather than the number of writers or would-be-if-they-only-knew readers.

In other encouraging news, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference featured a Major Morning Track, eight hours of instruction, focused on speculative fiction. Also, three of the eight award winners there were speculative fiction writers.

Slowly but surely, the genre is coming of age.

More Mount Hermon, 2010

If you’ve been around A Christian Worldview of Fiction for any length of time, you already know I think the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference is topnotch. Every time I go, I learn more about writing and the business end of publishing, meet more writers, and get more inspiration.

This past conference was no exception.

I arrived a day early, having driven up from SoCal with Rachel Marks and Merrie Destefano (yes, the award winners!) That night I attended the Early Bird session taught by Austin Boyd (no picture! What was I thinking??)

The full conference started the next day with the noon meal (you can hardly call the abundant food provided by Mount Hermon “lunch”), followed by separate orientations for the first timers and the alumni. Author James Scott Bell taught the session for the latter group. About half way through, he invited agent Steve Laube to join him. They held an interesting dialogue about agent stuff. 😉

I had the privilege of sitting at Steve’s table for dinner that night for the purpose of asking him if he ever looks at a work he’s rejected a second time (he does). I was impressed by how much help he gave each of us, even those just getting started who aren’t close to the agent stage. He brainstormed ideas with everyone, listened to projects, and asked intelligent questions.

Later I thought to ask him for an appointment. When we met the last full day of the conference, he was just as engaged, and gave me some helpful suggestions. A+ for Steve Laube. 😀

A good part of my conference time was spent in Rebeca Seitz‘s Major Morning Track—Painless, Purposeful Publicity. I took one picture which is good for blackmail, but this one gives you the real Rebeca. As head of Glass Road Public Relations, Rebeca was full of information about the promotion side of publishing. She had stats and studies, anecdotes and outlines.

I’m nowhere near this part of the process, but I like to be informed. Rebeca gave us loads of info, all from the perspective of what an author can do.

I’ll be honest—there’s so much that at one point I thought my only hope, should I become a published author, would be to hire a PR firm. But that, of course, is crossing the stream before I know if I need to get to the other side.

More on Mount Hermon another day.

Mount Hermon in a Nutshell

I don’t think I can ever do justice in a blog post to a writer’s conference like the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. Much of the value comes from the interaction with the people, and most of these are unplanned. Well … by me, anyway. I’m pretty sure God planned them from before the beginning of time! 😉

Some years, I’ve learned practical writing technique information or had especially helpful critiques. Other years the Keynote speaker has had wonderful, humorous, helpful things to say. Then there have been years when I learned more about the business side of things, especially how books are actually acquired.

This year’s conference was different. Yes, I had a great Major Morning Track with Rebeca Seitz of Glass Road Public Relations, LLC. But I think the over all value for me was two-fold.

One came in the people I encountered. From unexpected sources I received ideas, encouragement, support. There were unlikely connections, such as learning that Deb Raney calls home the little town my family moved to the one year we lived in Kansas, or meeting Doug Wolven, a new writer and first-time Mount Hermon attender who lives a mile or so from my place.

Other folks seemed divinely placed in my path to give me a piece of information I needed at a timely moment. Carol was one such person, Wendy another, and Kim, a third.

In a fiction class, I was most surprised by what became, from my perspective, the second great aspect of Mount Hermon this year. Author Marlo Schalesky started the workshop by getting on what she called her soapbox.

She said, to write because we want to isn’t good enough. Christians are called by God to affect lives. If we as writers can show readers God, from wherever we stand, they will know Him better. Story can be the vehicle because it is powerful; it can move and change people.

I love that focus.

Back from Mount Hermon

So the big news is, the two women I rode with to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference both won awards—two of eight offered.

Rachel Marks, on the left, won the True Grit Award, described as honoring a writer who perseveres under personal difficulty. Rachel is a cancer survivor. In the last year or so she had two surgeries with chemotherapy sandwiched between. By God’s grace and mercy, she is doing well and has continued to write.

Merrie Destefano, on the right, won the Mount Hermon Writer of the Year Award. Besides her many past accomplishments in the business, including her work as the editor of Victorian Homes magazine, she sold a novel to a general market publisher that will be releasing later this year.

I can’t tell you how happy I am for them both. What a fun/wonderful Awards event that was. More on the conference later.

Why Writers’ Conferences

I’m a believer in writers’ conferences and would go to more if I could afford it. Not so long ago I attended Mount Hermon in the spring and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) in the fall.

I’d even like to attend smaller conferences such as the one the Orange County Christian Writers’ Fellowship sponsors or the nearby Antelope Valley Christian Writers’ Conference. I used to periodically attend the ACW conference in the Los Angeles area, but for the last several years they’ve held their western US workshops in Arizona.

Why would I want to go to all these conferences, you might wonder. After all, isn’t much of the information the same?

Some is. But I go to these conferences because I learned when I was teaching that there’s always room to improve. Hearing someone else speak and interacting one on one or in small groups with other writers may supply me with some new way of networking or plotting or deepening character.

Besides learning more about the craft, however, I go to conferences just to hang with other writers. I have wonderful, caring friends and family who are interested in my writing and who pray for me, but other writers are going through what I go through. They know what yet another rejection letter feels like. They understand the level of dependency and trust in God’s sovereignty this business takes (or the level of worry and bitterness it can foster for those who go it alone! 😮 ) Sometimes it’s just nice to be with a bunch of people who are in the same boat.

A third reason I like going to Christian writers’ conferences is because they remind me of my reason for writing—I desire to glorify God through stories, and now through nonfiction as well. In a tight economy, for those of us trying to earn a living as writers, it’s easy to get off track and think making money is the point of it all. For me, the point is obedience to the job God has called me to, and conference speakers often remind me of that.

Here’s another one—I like to go to writers’ conferences because I get to see friends I’m making in this business. I may have started out attending another writer’s class, exchanging some emails, chatting at meals, and before you know it, these colleagues are friends. It’s good to get together with friends.

Lastly, writers’ conferences put me in touch with the professionals on the other side of the table—agents and editors. I like hearing their perspectives, picking up their tips, getting whatever insider information they’re willing to share. Writing is a different business, and if those who know are kind enough to offer help, I want to be there to accept.

Mount Hermon – Looking Back

I first attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference (where I am now, though you think I’m at home writing this blog post 🙂 ) back in 2004. Afterward one of the writing groups I belong to asked us to write about our most memorable moment at the conference.

Here’s my offering:

My Mount Hermon memorable moment was in transit. First stop for this poor white older single female bus traveler with Too Many Bags (both kinds) was downtown LA, for a transfer, at midnight.

I might mention, I’m not the most courageous person (i. e. I sent [one of the writers teaching a workshop] about seven dozen e-mails asking what I should expect at the conference).

The bus trip, however, was me and God—and about 82,000 other travelers. And the homeless folk who hang out at warm places like bus stations in the middle of the night.

Faced with an hour wait, I plopped on an end seat in the terminal and
determined to apply a recently-read writing tip—use the opportunity to people-watch. However, an elderly woman soon approached and sat next to me.

To my polite question about her travel plans, she responded, “No In-glesh.”

I dug out my rusty third-year Spanish and proceeded to stumble through a wonderful conversation with a godly Christian woman whose pastor-husband sat across the aisle.

Lessons learned:

  • God is in the bus station, too.
  • Language is important.
  • God transcends language barriers.
  • No matter how much I learn about my craft, without God’s transcendence, I might as well be stumbling along in a foreign language.
  • Connecting with culture is easier if you know the language.
  • Prayer matters.
  • Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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